Printpack held a grand opening Monday for its new Rhinelander manufacturing plant, a state-of-the-art facility that officials touted as a success story in keeping the multinational corporation - and its jobs - in the Northwoods.
The 202,000-square-foot building, which runs 24 hours per day with four shifts of workers, is part of the company's strategy to improve production efficiency, according to its chairman and chief executive officer, Dennis Love. Based in Atlanta, Printpack manufactures flexible and rigid packaging for products such as snack foods and beverages.
The new site, on Wisconsin Highway 17, will eventually replace the company's old facility on Kemp Street, in Rhinelander. Plant manager Pat Marquardt said the Kemp Street site continues to operate but will likely close by the end of the year.
The company began planning for the new location in January 2012. Operations there started this February in a limited capacity.
Rhinelander is one of Printpack's many worldwide operations. The company employs 175 people here; about 30 of those positions were added because of the additional output expected by the new plant and a host of technological upgrades.
For instance: The new facility has two robotic arms that help prepare packaging products for shipping.
Janet Siefert, a process engineer, said the robots did not supplant workers. Rather, she said, "What the robots do is take away the hard tasks."
The new facility cost about $80 million, but Printpack did not have to shoulder that expense alone. Oneida County's Economic Development Corporation helped buy the land for the new site. The city of Rhinelander annexed the property into the city and offered special financing. And the state Department of Transportation awarded a $425,000 grant to the city for road improvements. The state also awarded money for job training.
The government offered those incentives, in part, because it was concerned that Printpack could move the plant elsewhere.
Gov. Scott Walker, one of many dignitaries on hand for the grand opening, acknowledged that state and local officials were concerned about outside competition.
"Anytime you're looking at a business that has a global presence, they look at options out there where they're making expansions, you want to make sure they can not only keep the business here, but make the investment in the employees and future employees," Walker said in an interview after speaking at the grand opening.
He continued: "It's good not only for the employees and the community, but it's a good sign I think to other businesses that a company like this that can be anywhere in the country, for that matter, anywhere around the world, chose to invest here in the state of Wisconsin. We're pleased with that. We'd like to see more of that in the future."
Oneida County Economic Development Director Roger Luce said he too was concerned Printpack might move out of state. He said North Carolina, for example, was at one time proposing attractive incentives, but that it later reduced what it could offer.
"We knew who our competition was," Luce said.
Love, the chairman and CEO of Printpack, said financial assistance from local and state governments is "always helpful," but it was not a primary consideration in deciding where to locate the Rhinelander plant.
A more important factor, Love said, is the quality of the workforce. He said that while Printpack could have received similar help from other states, Rhinelander already offered a supply of properly trained employees.
"We have an experienced workforce," Love said. "We could go plop this plant down somewhere else, but it would take us a long time to find 150 or 180 people and train them up to the level of experience these people have already."
That workforce has long been a part of Rhinelander. The company that preceded Printpack at the Kemp Street plant opened in the early 1900s. Its business sprung from the paper industry, but today, Printpack's products are mostly plastic, according to Love.
What will happen to the Kemp Street facility? Luce said there is a plan under development for its future, but that he is not able to reveal just yet what it is.
What Luce could disclose: "It's good for the entire community," he said.
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